By Patrick Raleigh, UT On-line/news editorNorthfield, Illinois- Stepan Co. has reported a drop in operating earnings from its polyester polyols business for 2003. The decline, it said, was due to higher raw material costs and despite higher volumes, which increased 7 percent in the US and 26 percent in Europe. Stepan's smaller PU systems business fared better, recording higher earnings on improved volume, added an 11 Feb annual results statement from the Northfield-based group. For the group as a whole, Stepan posted a 76-percent drop in net earnings to $4.9 million on 2003 sales of $785 million, 5 percent higher than in 2002. Stepan previously announced that it would not be able to meet certain US loan agreements and had entered talks with lenders to amend these terms. These discussions are continuing, the company said in its results statement. "